Kobe Bryant spent all of his two decades in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, rocking the purple and gold. However, there was a time when he almost ended up with their more blue-collar Staples Center rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers. On Thursday’s upcoming episode of the podcast All the Smoke, we see Lakers president/owner Jeanie Buss discuss with hosts Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes how Bryant nearly made the switch.
Although she said she never spoke with him directly on the topic, Buss mentioned that Bryant was “very subtle” about his displeasure with the Lakers around 2004, accenting his clothes with Clippers colors to make the hint. “I can see he likes challenges,” she said of his quiet demonstration,” and that would’ve been a huge thing. I think that [Bryant’s departure] was something that was very possible.”
Barnes was a small forward for the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of the 2003-2004 NBA season, and he spoke about the excitement around Bryant potentially making the move. “Could you imagine that, though?” he shared with the crew. “Bro, I remember [the Clippers] were talking about [how] they were going to build an arena out in Orange County for [us], [I] wouldn’t have to travel now, and like, the Clippers put the full-court press to try to get Kobe. And I was just like, ‘There’s no way this can happen.'”
And when co-host Stephen Jackson said, “I would give up everything [to get him],” Barnes agreed. “You’ve got to [do it],” Barnes laughed, “including children.”
But while Buss doesn’t go into why he stayed with the Lakers during the episode’s preview, there was one person who had a close relationship with Bryant and likely convinced him to stay: NBA legend Jerry “The Logo” West.
“I remember when he was going to leave the Lakers,” West said during a special January episode of TNT’s Inside the NBA honoring Bryant after his death. “[A]nd I’ve never really mentioned this to anyone, he was going to come and sign with the Clippers, who I’m now involved with as a consultant… And I told him, ‘Kobe, under no circumstances can you do this.’ And he was mad at everyone, the Lakers, the owner, everyone else. I said, ‘Kobe you can’t go play with the Clippers. You can’t play for that owner, period.’ We had two conversations about it.”
“That owner” turned out to be Donald Sterling, who owned the Clippers at that time.
This would not be the only time Bryant threatened to leave “Showtime L.A.,” however. Three years afterward, when Kobe felt the Lakers let the media believe he was responsible for Shaq’s trade to Miami and told him they had no intentions to rehire his friend Jerry West, Bryant was livid and demanded the Lakers to trade him – but this time to the Windy City so he could follow in the footsteps of his idol, Michael Jordan.
Check out Episode 81 of SHOWTIME Basketball’s All the Smoke, all new this Thursday on YouTube.